While the official NCAA pre-season rankings haven’t come out yet, the Jacks are expected to be around the No. 15 ranking they were awarded in the Flowrestling Top 25 Preseason Poll.
SDSU will be coming off a season where the was program elevated to new heights by head coach Chris Bono, including finishing the season as the No. 19 team in the nation. That was the highest ranking to end a season in the program’s history.
“It’s our most experienced team so far,” said sixth-year head coach Chris Bono. “It’s nowhere near where we are going to end this thing [Bono’s career at SDSU].”
Last season, the Jacks went 14-5 and defeated multiple ranked teams. They finished third in the Big 12. This season won’t be any easier for the Jacks.
The Big 12 has expanded and grown even stronger adding Northern Iowa and Fresno State added to the conference.
The Jacks will have their hands full with only four returning ranked wrestlers and an abundance of youth and inexperience.
Junior Seth Gross will be returning from a year in which he racked up NCAA awards and Big 12 accolades. The 133-pound junior placed second at NCAA Nationals last season and is favored to be the best 133-pounder in the nation, according to polls such as InterMat and Flowrestling.
Gross’ success is starting to have an impact on what the team expects to achieve this season.
“He’s got a bit of an aura around him,” Bono said. “When he comes in, he thinks he’s the baddest guy on the planet. It’s rubbing off on the other guys.”
Gross will appear in the 52nd annual NWCA All-Star Classic Nov. 5, where he’ll face Michigan State’s Stevan Micic at Princeton University.
Gross, who was 34-2 last season, fell short of his goal of winning a national title last year, but said it remains his goal.
“Ultimately, I want to make the Olympic team and be an Olympic champ,” Gross said. “So, obviously, I want to win a national championship this year.”
Another returning ranked wrestler for the Jacks is senior Nate Rotert, who qualified for the NCAA Championships for three consecutive years. Rotert suffered an injury midway through last season that slowed him down, but he managed to bounce back with a fourth-place finish at the Big 12 Championships, which qualified him for the NCAA Championships.
He was also in an accident this summer while riding his moped, but recovered and is ready for the season.
Rotert is ranked No. 9 in the 197-pound weight class in the Intermat preseason polls and will have stiff competition from No. 5 Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State and No. 7 Jake Smith of West Virginia.
Senior Luke Zilverberg will be a key returner for the Jacks as well. Zilverberg qualified for his first NCAA Championships last season and went 2-2 at the tournament.
While Zilverberg competed in the 165-pound weight class, he is back at the 157-weight class and ranked No. 18.
Senior David Kocer, in the 174-pound weight class, will look to make it to his third consecutive NCAA Championship Tournament this year. Last year, he turned in his third consecutive 20-win season. He finds himself ranked No. 14 at his weight class, according to Intermat.
Despite returning four ranked wrestlers, the Jacks have 13 true freshmen on their roster, including six redshirt freshmen. There are just six seniors on the Jacks’ depth chart.
Between the youth and the difficulty of the schedule, it will be important for Bono and his squad to make sure they are ready to go into hostile environments and win.
The Jacks will begin their season at 9 a.m. Nov. 5 when they host the Daktronics Open Tournament.
It’ll be the first of three open tournaments the Jacks are participating in to begin the season and will have implications on the starting lineup.
“We will solidify our lineup after the Open Tournaments,” Bono said.